The Spirit of Abimelech

Robert Wurtz II

If it happens that the king’s wrath rises, and he says to you: “Why did you approach so near to the city when you fought? Did you not know that they would shoot from the wall? Who struck Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? Was it not a woman who cast a piece of a millstone on him from the wall, so that he died in Thebez? Why did you go near the wall?”—then you shall say, “Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.”(2 Samuel 11:20–21 NKJV)

Our passage reveals that Abimelech’s greatest fear did in fact come upon him — albeit post-mortem. His dying fear was that of being remembered as the man who was killed by a woman who threw a rock and hit him in the head. So great was the fear that he commanded his armor-bearer to thrust him through and kill him before the damage that had been done by the woman’s stone could do him in (Judges 9:53-54). His final scheme failed. Some one hundred years later when lectures were given on the dangers of armies being close to fortified walls, Abimelech was the preferred illustration.

I suppose it was only fitting that such an evil man would die such an embarrassing death. After all, he had murdered seventy of his brothers (some count sixty-nine) in order to rid himself of the possibility of them challenging him for the “throne.” First, he went to his Canaanite uncles and convinced them to use their influence in the city to make him king, and then he used the means they gave him (seventy silver coins) to hire a rogue group of assassins to kill them all in the family home. Truth be told the brothers never wanted to rule the people anyhow. Abimelech did. The brothers wanted God to rule as king — not a man. 

Matthew Henry once said that the power of ambition turns men into beasts. It breaks through all the ties of natural affection (familial love) and natural conscience. It sacrifices that which is most sacred, dear, and valuable, to its designs. Abimelech never understood the fact that it is better to be useful than to be great. In fact, his thirst for power was insatiable. So proud and arrogant was this man that he preferred for the people to be dead and the city destroyed than have them refuse him to rule over them. His attitude was plain and simple, “If I can’t rule over you I will annihilate you!”

Abimelech’s uncles and the people they influenced, soon turned on him — though they had put him in power. God sent an evil spirit to cause strife between them. I suggest that soon after he was in power they realized they had made a grave mistake. But it was too late. What was done was done. He used his charm to override their discernment (if they had any) and blind their eyes to his true aims. Little did his uncles know that they were dealing with a psychopath. 

After a while of being stirred up against Abimelech, the people revolted. In other words, they took matters into their own hands. Big mistake. Abimelech chased them through the city and up into a tower where he set fire to it — burning a thousand men and women to death. Those who did not die by the fire died from smoke inhalation. He plowed the city under and salted it! This was his way of sending a message that you don’t defy Abimelech! He would rather see the people dead and the city destroyed than have someone else ruling over them. Astonishing!

Modern Abimelech’s

Just as “that woman Jezebel” made an appearance in the book of Revelation as a figure of a spirit that was influencing the local church, there is a “spirit” or “attitude” of Abimelech that operates in our times. I have found it in the workplace and I have found it in the churches. Men (or women) intoxicated with ambition — will destroy anyone or anything to achieve their aims. They will even kill off their own family if they have to (literally or figuratively). Anyone who gets in the way of their ambitions is met with a ferocious response. When people reject them — they simply begin destroying things. They would rather that nothing is left to rule than to have someone else ruling in their place. It’s the old, “If I can’t have you — nobody will” outlook.

It’s understandable that Abimelech’s uncles and the men of Shechem didn’t discern his plans or true temperament because they were Canaanites. However, it only took a few years for these things to come out.
Again, it was too late. They tried to take matters into their own hands — but when you have missed God — God has to fix the problem. So they died for their error. Sometimes we miss God too and the temptation is to try to fix what we have messed up. It will never happen. God has to fix the problem. 

Abimelech’s story is one of extreme evil. He represents exactly how not to behave as a leader. Had his uncles’ been reading and studying the word of God they could have measured the man against the word to see if he was legit. They did not. They followed the man like sheep to a slaughter. His charm overrode any concerns that they might have had. How tragic!

And Abimelech came unto the tower, and fought against it, and went hard unto the door of the tower to burn it with fire. And a certain woman cast a piece of a millstone upon Abimelech’s head, and all to brake his skull. Then he called hastily unto the young man his armourbearer, and said unto him, Draw thy sword, and slay me, that men say not of me, A woman slew him. And his young man thrust him through, and he died. (Judges 9:52–54 KJV)

The Death of Abimelech (Gustav Dore)

The story of Abimelech was written for our example and learning (1 Cor. 10:11). It is a warning about the blindness and ruthlessness of sin. With only seconds to repent and beg God for forgiveness — Abimelech was transfixed with his legacy. “How will people remember me?” Never mind that, you are about to face God, sir! Your legacy? Really?

Moreover, it is a warning to be careful who you set up as a leader. Don’t be drawn in and deceived by their charm and manipulation. Seek God earnestly in prayer. And if you have placed an Abimelech into a leadership position and it can’t be undone — don’t take matters into your own hands. Let God deal with it. It may not happen as soon as we would like it too, but God will avenge the foolishness and proud acts of leaders. For Abimelech, God embarrassed him and his memory for all times. Three-thousand years later we are still talking about a man who was killed by a woman who threw a rock and hit him in the head. That’s what ruthless ambition will get you. When men go about to establish their own kingdom at the expense of the kingdom of God — really bad things are going to happen. As Peter has reminded us, “The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment.” (2 Peter 2:9–10 NKJV)   

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